Teaching Opinion

Response: Goal Of Classroom Management Is To Have Power ‘With,’ Not ‘Over,’ Kids

By Larry Ferlazzo — January 24, 2015 12 min read
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(This post is Part Three in a four-part series. You can see Part One here and Part Two here)

This week’s question is:

What are your suggestions for effective classroom management strategies?

Part One in this series shared responses from Bryan Harris, Marcia Imbeau, Pernille Ripp, Gianna Cassetta, Brook Sawyer and Julia Thompson. You can also listen to a ten-minute conversation I had with Bryan and Pernille on my BAM! Radio Show. I also shared related resources at Classroom Management Advice and The Best Posts On Classroom Management.

Guests Kelly Bergman, Patty O’Grady, ReLeah Lent, Barry Gilmore, and Bethany Bernasconi contributed their thoughts in Part Two.

Today’s post features the thoughts of Dr. Debbie Silver, Richard L. Curwin, and Marcia L. Tate.

Response From Dr. Debbie Silver

Dr. Debbie Silver is the author of the best selling books, Drumming to the Beat of Different Marchers: Finding the Rhythm for Differentiated Instruction and Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8: Teaching Kids to Succeed . She co-wrote the new book, Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Teaching. You can read more about her at www.debbiesilver.com and follow here on Twitter at @DrDebbieSilver:

Classroom management is much more than just as set of rules, rewards, and/or consequences. Teachers need to deliberate thoughtfully about every aspect of their classrooms - from how to arrange the furniture to steps for building class community to how to minimize behavioral issues. Every decision teachers make about their classrooms is a reflection of what they believe should transpire in their rooms. The plan should be crafted to meet both the short-range goal of a smoothly run class and the long-range goal of fostering self-disciplined, responsible, contributing members of society.

Though it may sound counter intuitive, some of the best classroom management takes place long before the students arrive. By purposefully assigning seats to minimize negative student interactions, by streamlining procedures to reduce wasted time, and by planning responses to potential inappropriate behavior, teachers can prepare themselves with well-thought-out strategies that serve to curtail many problems before they ever begin. Never one to subscribe to the notion that, “A good lesson plans solves all discipline problems,” I have found, nonetheless, that engaged students who feel valued in the class are far less likely to disrupt. In addition to planning challenging work for students, I think the most often overlooked aspect of classroom supervision is that of building positive relationships with students.

Students work hardest for teachers they like and respect. When I’m asked, “How do I get the students to like and respect me?” my immediate response is, “Like and respect them first.” Being an effective teacher does not mean that you have to win a popularity contest or be every student’s favorite teacher. What is most important is to be yourself in the classroom. Whether you are an introverted by-the-book instructor or an extroverted “let’s do something radical today” teacher, it is important to be authentic and consistent so that your students know who you are.

Likewise, the goal is not to demonstrate power over kids. The best teachers make sure they have power with kids. It is essential to make the time to both let them know about you and to find out about their individual strengths, experiences, beliefs, preferences, and dreams. Teachers have their own styles of building positive connections with students, but the following are some general suggestions for getting started:

Sharing Who You Are With Students:

1. Make a bulletin board about you. Put pictures of you when you were their age and on through your school career.

2. Have pictures of you, your family, your pets, and your friends framed and placed around the room.

3. Bring your scrapbook or old school yearbooks to class for students to view.

4. Weave relevant personal stories into appropriate teachable moments.

5. Participate in team building and/or advisory activities with students.

6. Stock a bookshelf with books you read at their age along with your personal favorites now.

7. Make a display or list of people you most admire.

8. Perform for them something you like to do such as a dance move, karate move, song, interpretative reading, magic trick, physical feat, or joke.

9. Bring in artifacts of your skills like a trophy, a certificate, a painting, a poem, a song, something you built, a needlepoint, a picture of your garden, a picture of you competing in a sport, a picture of you doing charitable work, or whatever it is you do when you are not with them.

10. Share with them your “dream list” of things you still want to do in this world before you leave it.

(Silver, Berckemeyer, and Baenen. 2014)

Connecting One-on-One With Students:

1. Greet students at the door. Speak to them by name. Let them know you are glad they are present.

2. Make every effort to let students know that even though you may not like the choices they make, you still value them as important members of your class.

3. Have the students complete interest inventories, and share yours with them.

4. Use interactive journals (especially with students reluctant to speak out in class).

5. Show up at events important to your students, even those that are not school related.

6. Periodically read over their interest inventories and use their preferences and accomplishments to personalize lessons.

7. Occasionally invite students to have lunch with you, either individually or in small groups, just to chat informally.

8. With poster paper or something similar create a graffiti wall somewhere in your classroom. After a discussion about “appropriate sharing,” invite students to draw or write about their feelings.

9. Provide a suggestion box in a private place in your classroom. Assure students that you will read every entry and will personally respond to any that include the student’s name.

10. Try to write a note, e-mail, or letter to each student some time during the year to let them know what you appreciate about him. If you cannot find the time to write to every student, consider contacting the marginalized or troubled students first. (Make sure your note is specific to the student you are writing. Send or give the message to the students in an unobtrusive way, and don’t ask for a response.)

These are just a few suggestions that teachers use to help connect with students and communicate with them on a deeper level. Of course, you will want to try the things that work with your personal management style, your students, your subject matter, and your school environment. But no matter what your teaching situation, building positive relationships with students is the key to effective classroom management.

Silver, D. (2005). Drumming to the Beat of Different Marchers: Finding the Rhythm for Differentiated Learning. Chicago, IL: Incentive Publications by World Book, Inc.

Silver, D., Berckemeyer, J., & Baenen, J. (2014). Deliberate Optimism: Reclaiming the Joy in Education. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Dr. Debbie Silver quote

Response From Richard L. Curwin

Richard L. Curwin is an experienced education practitioner and author whose work explores issues of student discipline, motivation, behavior, and classroom management. He is currently the director of the master’s program in behavior disorder at David Yellin College in Jerusalem and has shared his behavior management strategies with educators and parents across the world. His books include Affirmative Classroom Management: How do I develop effective rules and consequences in my school? (ASCD, 2013), Meeting Students Where They Live: Motivation in Urban Schools (ASCD, 2010) and Discipline With Dignity: New Problems, New Solutions, 3rd Edition (ASCD, 2008). Learn more about his work at www.tlc-sems.com or connect with him by emailing richardcurwin@gmail.com:

When I ask teachers and administrators why they continue to use rewards and punishments when they know they don’t work, they frequently answer, “You have to do something!” No. You do not have to do something. You have to do the right thing.

No one would allow a doctor to remove a kidney for a patient with a sprained ankle because he had to do something. As absurd as this scenario sounds, using “you have to do something” as a strategy for helping students is not much different. I think what “You have to do something,” really means is “you have to do something easy.”

Here are three keys for changing student behavior that really work, do not rely on simplistic reward/punishment systems and, yes, require effort.

1. Strategies that help students want to change. Wanting to change means that they want to improve their life, not to get something good or avoid something bad. Everyone wants to change something about their life: lose weight, spend more time with their family, get organized, or read more and watch the screen less. We struggle with these changes. If we can’t change ourselves when we want to, how can we change a child who doesn’t want to? All effective behavior change strategies begin with this premise: we must show students that change is in their interest, not ours. This introduction is too short to offer many of the dozens of ways to tap into internal motivation, but you can start by thinking of what motivates you to want to change your own behavior.

2. Students need to see us behave the way we want them to behave. Students learn how to be an adult by observation. Pretending to be a grown up in a variety of scenarios is one of a child’s first games. There are two ways to meet this step. The first is to follow our own rules. If we don’t, students learn quickly that they don’t matter to us, so why should it matter to them? This extends beyond the classroom. If students are not allowed to be late for class, then be on time for faculty meetings. The principle applies to smart phone use.

The second way is to follow this alternate golden rule, “Do unto students as you want them to do onto others.” Never say or do anything to a student that you don’t want that student also doing. This includes consequences, voice tone, body language, and what we do publicly. About 95 percent of all abusive behavior comes from those who themselves were abused.

3. Students have to know how to change. No reward or punishment can change a student’s behavior if that student lacks the skill or knowledge to do it. Telling what to do is not the same as how to do it. If I said there is only one thing you need to learn to stop all misbehavior - to have your students always do the right thing - would this be helpful? Of course not, if I don’t tell you how.

We assume most children know how not to hit, or swear, or call out, or a host of other things, but many do not. It’s a good idea to begin with the assumption that a student might know what proper behavior is and still not know how to do it. Begin by teaching the skill rather than with a punishment. You really have nothing to lose.

Changing student behavior is difficult. Changing it without the student wanting to, seeing adults do it and knowing how is impossible.

Richard Curwin quote

Response From Marcia L. Tate

Marcia L. Tate is the author of eight books, of which Shouting Won’t Grow Dendrites: 20 Techniques to Detour Around the Danger Zones is her latest. She is an educational consultant and has taught more than 400,000 parents, teachers, administrators and business and community leaders throughout the world. Previously, she had a 30-year career in education as a classroom teacher, reading specialist, language arts coordinator, and staff development executive director:

The story is told of a highway running through the center of a town in Mexico. Without warning, the highway drops over a cliff. The town council decides to park an ambulance at the base of the cliff so that when cars fall off, the passengers can be expediently rushed to the hospital. Since this decision does not work, detour signs are erected along the highway so that cars never get to the edge of the cliff in the first place. This story is a metaphor for the difference between a proactive and a reactive classroom manager. Proactive managers wait for students to fall off cliffs, or misbehave, and then place them in ambulances and rush them to the principal’s office. Proactive managers put up detour signs which steer students away from misbehavior.

Five such detour signs are as follows:

(1) Develop a relationship with each student

If your students like you, there is nothing they will not do for you. If your students don’t like you, there is nothing they will not do to you.

(2) Create a physical environment conducive to learning

Manipulate the color, music, lighting, aroma, and seating in class to decrease misbehavior.

(3) Deliver instruction using 20 brain-compatible strategies

Engage the brains of all students with 20 strategies that address all multiple intelligences and learning modalities.

(4) Develop a proactive management plan

Establish and practice classroom rituals, celebrations and consequences throughout the year.

(5) Deal proactively with chronic behavior disorders

For the ten percent of students who may still approach the edge of the cliff, convene a team of educators holding a safety net with plans for putting these students back on the road to recovery.

Marcia Tate quote

Thanks to Debbie, Richard, and Marcia for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post. Readers’ responses will be included in Part Four.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org.When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Anyone whose question is selected for weekly column can choose one free book from a number of education publishers.

Just a reminder -- if you missed any of the highlights from the first three years of blog, you can see a categorized list below. You won’t see posts from school year in those compilations, but you can review those new ones by clicking on the monthly archives link on this blog’s sidebar:

Classroom Management Advice

Student Motivation

Implementing The Common Core

Teaching Reading and Writing

Parent Engagement In Schools

Teaching Social Studies

Best Ways To Begin & End The School Year

Teaching English Language Learners

Using Tech In The Classroom

Education Policy Issues

Teacher & Administrator Leadership

Instructional Strategies


Teaching Math & Science

Brain-Based Learning

School Relationships

Author Interviews

Professional Development

Education Week has published a collection of posts from blog -- along with new material -- in an ebook form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Watch for the Part Four in a few days....

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The opinions expressed in Classroom Q&A With Larry Ferlazzo are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.